By Amir Mateen

ISLAMABAD: The PPP workers have never felt as dispirited and lost as they do today. The reasons are emotional, political and material. But the foremost is the issue of identity. The party workers are confused as to what do they stand for; whether they should go along with the public support for the judiciary or back the position that Asif Ali Zardari and a coterie of his friends have taken against it. Who are they fighting for and who are they against? Contradictions abound.

Benazir Bhutto fought against Pervez Musharraf for over a decade yet Zardari continues the general’s policies and relies on men who worked with him such as Tariq Aziz. Benazir signed the Charter of Democracy (CoD) with Nawaz Sharif but Zardari opposed it for nearly two years; he tried to unsuccessfully dislodge the PML-N government yet the PPP remains in Shahbaz Sharif’s coalition government. A similar ‘now on, now off’ policy is practised towards the PML-Q as well. Benazir never joined hands with the children of Zahoor Elahi but Zardari came close to forming a coalition government with them in the Punjab. PML-Q stalwarts such as Sumera Malik have been frequent visitors to the Presidency. Benazir took a strong position against religious militants; she declared the Taliban the biggest scourge against Pakistan in her last speech. Yet the current PPP government, like the PML-N, has toned down its rhetoric against religious extremists. The political mentor of Taliban, JUI, is still a close ally in the centre as well as in Balochistan. The PPP’s traditional fight against the mullahs is a thing of the past.

The socialist ideology was long gone but Benazir retained the image that the PPP stood for the masses-at least in words if not in deeds. It had always appealed to the masses; that a PPP government would actually bring a change was a belief that existed more in the realm of psychology than reality. When the party came into power, workers felt empowered; a certain festivity of dance and frolics prevailed; the standards of liberal values were loosened; an ordinary person felt as if he could look a constable in the eye.

A PPP worker was a distinct species-somebody who would lie down before a minister’s car; forcibly enter the leadership’s offices; gatecrash elitist functions; threaten to burn himself with petrol if his problem was not heeded. That the elite sections of the party would tolerate the crude scuffling of the masses was the PPP culture. But it is not any longer. The PPP workers are completely disconnected from the elitist coterie of the new leadership. A wide schism has developed between the two classes. The workers are angry and desperate.

They are also angry because the investigation of Benazir’s assassination has gotten nowhere. A whole generation of the PPP workers grew up with her as part of their life and they are still traumatised by her loss. New slogans were noticed at her last anniversary: “Na roti, Na kapra, Na ghar chahiyay, humko BB kay qatil ka sar chahiyay.” Another said: “BB hum sharminda hain, tairay qatil zinda hain.” The workers openly question the logic of tasking the investigation to the UN while the party is in power. Shakil Anjum, a journalist specialising in crime investigation, has pointed out serious flaws in the process in his recent book ‘Who Assassinated Benazir Bhutto.’ He says that the reports prepared by Crime Investigation Department and by Major (R) Shafqat Mahmood of the Special Investigation Group have not been included in the investigation material.

All the players who were responsible for Benazir’s security have been either retained or promoted, as were also the ones involved in Murtaza Bhutto’s killing. Then DPO Rawalpindi Saud Aziz was particularly sought by the prime minister for his home constituency of Multan after being promoted. SSP Yasin Farooq and DSP Ishtiaq Hussain Shah continue to be posted in Rawalpindi where Benazir was killed. Interior Secretary Kamal Shah was retained for two years. All those who were in-charge of Benazir’s security—Rehman Malik, Interior Ministry spokesman Brig (R) Javed Cheema, are still thriving.

This, however, is not the end of the workers’ woes. They are also angry because they feel that they have not gained anything from voting for their party. PPP workers had legitimate expectations to be compensated as the party returned to power after 12 long years yet they are excluded from the perks and power circle. As a result, the stories of corruption by the top PPP leadership pain them more.

PPP workers were known for hitting back if one said something against the party or its leaders. One could not talk logically to the ‘jiyalas’ as they had come to be known. They would not tolerate any criticism whether it was of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s excesses or drinking habits; they also ignored Benazir’s faults that might have led to the downfall of her two governments or even Zardari’s corruption or philandering. Right or wrong, it was their party — period. Not any longer. You tell them one story against the party or Zardari and they will add five more to it. After all, Zardari owned the Surrey Palace in the end and he also claims the money in Swiss accounts. The only issue in the courts is whether or not these are ill-gotten gains.

On top of everything, Zardari has this attitude of insulting and deriding workers as well as the top leaders, sometimes publicly. He runs the presidential affairs as if it was some cricket club or his family-owned Bambino Cinema. He has this habit of calling world leaders and local functionaries directly, something that almost caused the war with India over the alleged call from their foreign minister. Recently, trying to call a minister, Zardari somehow got connected to his PA to whom he said “Ullu kay pathay, it’s the president.”

“The president cannot be so obnoxious; please learn some manners,” responded the PA only to learn later that it was really the president.

The party is not consulted on major issues; the PPP secretariat is virtually closed under the aegis of the once socialist Chaudhry Manzoor who is now busy in ‘capitalist’ pursuits. Zardari has not come out of what is called ‘the jail syndrome’ and the joke in town is that it’s a government of “prisoners, mushaqqatis and mulaqatis.” Each one of those at the helm of power—-Dr Asim Hussain, Ahmad Mukhtar, Rehman Malik, Babar Awan, Farooq Naik, Riaz Lalji, Zulfiqar Mirza-belong to this exclusive club. Most of them enjoy dual nationality. They have no stake in this country and may not have any qualms while leaving it again. Zardari does not have Benazir’s credentials or a fraction of her charisma; and he will not let anybody else from the party come forward. This leaves nothing but a bleak future not just for the party but for the entire polity, in which the PPP held up one side of the political pendulum for the last 40 years.

A plethora of questions haunt what was Pakistan’s biggest party for over 40 years: Where is the party headed? Is Bhutto’s party finally over? Will the party survive in its present shape till Master Bilawal grows up and learns some Urdu? How will it fare in the next elections? Will there be a major schism in the party? What will be the future of Zardari?

The chances of a major schism in the PPP are few as long as the party is in power. Everybody in it is out there to get the best share possible of the power largess. Come next elections, or whenever the PPP loses power, and a lot of daggers will come out. The PPP might rebel against Zardari or it might split into factions ala the PML. Many more might join the small band of dissidents – Safdar Abbasi, Raza Rabbani, Yousaf Talpur, Amin Fahim-led perhaps by Aitzaz Ahsan.

Whatever the situation, the PPP will survive for a while but its base might be reduced to Sindh, akin to the ANP in Pakhtunkhwa or the MQM in urban Sindh. However, one cannot say the same about Zardari’s future.

So far, he may have survived a trial because of his presidential exemption. Even if he continues to be spared from the trial, what will happen the day his presidential tenure is over? Either he will strike a new deal or he will go, in the words of Faiz, “from the house of his beloved straight to the gallows.” He himself says so: “My place is either in the President’s House or in jail.” The clock is ticking.

Concluded (We regret the announcement that it concluded yesterday)

The News

April 15, 2010